March is Save Your Vision Month, and the Illinois Optometric Association (IOA) supports healthy habits in the workplace. With the apparent increase in use of computers and other technology, digital eyestrain is a major concern for people of all ages and all occupations from students to full-time working citizens. Symptoms can include: headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, light sensitivity, glare, as well as neck and shoulder pain. Recent studies have reported as many as 60% of adults experience these symptoms. The American Optometric Association (AOA) emphasizes a few key recommendations to reduce and alleviate symptoms in the workplace:
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Take a 20-second break, every 20 minutes and view something 20 feet away.
- Keep a distance: The AOA recommends sitting a comfortable distance from the computer monitor where you can easily read all text with your head and torso in an upright posture and your back supported by your chair. Generally, the preferred viewing distance is between 20 and 28 inches from the eye to the front surface of the screen.
- View from a different angle: Ideally, the computer screen should be 15 to 20 degrees, or about 4 to 5 inches, below eye level as measured from the center of the screen.
- Decrease glare: While there is no way to completely minimize glare from light sources, consider using a glare filter. These filters decrease the amount of light reflected from the screen.
- Blink often: Minimize your chances of developing dry eyes when using a computer by making an effort to blink frequently.
It is important to note that leisure activities are more frequently becoming digitized. People are more often watching movies and television on mobile devices, and reading books and playing games on tablets. These tips are useful to relieve digital eyestrain outside the workplace as well.
“Blue light is something we’re getting exponentially more exposed to because of our transition to a digital lifestyle,” says David Friess, O.D., a Philadelphia-based research consultant. “Digital reading is not something we were designed to do.”
Damage caused by ultraviolet light and blue light from the sun is well understood, but blue light is also emitted from LED lights and digital screens such as phones and tablets. The eye alone does not have a great defense system against blue light. Studies demonstrate that an increase in exposure to blue light accelerates free radicals in the eye increasing retinal disease. In addition, studies report blue light suppresses melatonin delaying circadian rhythms and the sleep-wake cycle. The IOA urges people to wear polarized sunglasses outside and consider blue-blocking eyeglasses or screen protectors for tablets to avoid damage from these harmful light sources. Consuming leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale provides nutrients that have a role in protecting the eye from damage from blue light sources.
Contact your local optometrist and schedule an appointment if you are experiencing any symptoms of digital eye strain to further improve your overall eye health and comfort.